How Schools Can Profit From The Influence Of Supportive Parents

Book bans Protesting parents against COVID-related safety measures. punches delivered during board meetings. Conflicts between parents and schools have frequently received negative media coverage in recent years.

However, in spite of incidents that received a lot of attention and highlighted the bad behavior of parents, an incredible number of exceptional efforts made by parents—most of which took place far from the public eye—are bringing about positive change in the communities of schools. In light of the current educator shortage, the following are two recent instances that prompted school systems to create new positions.

MaryLu Hertz has four children who have attended the Manassas City school system in Virginia. All of them have been identified as gifted and are enrolled in the school’s gifted and talented program.

Parent Groups Are Raising Awareness Of Important Issues And Calling For Action

White Hertz is a member of the district’s gifted and talented advisory committee, or GTAC, which aimed for racial parity in the program and is made up of parents, teachers, and staff. When Hertz and other GTAC members took on this challenge at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, approximately 65% of the district’s students were Hispanic, but only 26% of GT program students were Hispanic.

In the GTAC’s 2017-18 annual report to the superintendent and school board, Hertz and two other GTAC members shared a research-heavy, well-organized document that included, among many recommendations, “more robust identification of GT students, with a view toward more representative demographic distribution.”

Hertz stated, “We took care not to place blame, but to call attention to what we thought was a statistically significant problem that affected programs across the country.”

Before the committee presented the presentation to the school board, the superintendent and his staff reviewed it. Hertz stated, “They made suggestions to smooth out some of the passionate edges of our presentation so that it focused on making productive suggestions, bringing everyone on the same team, and making a plan for the future.”

The GTAC achieved its primary objective during the subsequent academic year. The district hired someone to fill a brand-new full-time position: administrator of advanced and gifted programs. New programs specifically aimed at underrepresented groups have been established and a revision to the GT identification procedure has been completed since then. The outcome: Hispanic participation in the GT program has increased to 40%, according to a 2023 report.

Another example is Erika Slater, whose two sons have attended the Baltimore-based independent boys’ school for the past 15 years. She has served on the parent association of Gilman School in various capacities. However, she had perhaps the proudest moment of that lengthy stretch during the 2021–22 school year.

The school hired its first director of wellness, whose job it is to promote a culture of wellness for students, staff, and faculty members, after a two-and-a-half-year effort started by a dedicated wellness committee within the parents’ association. At first, it wasn’t easy to sell.

Slater stated, “At the beginning of this journey, there wasn’t as much of a recognition that mental and physical wellness needed to be addressed in a way that was more authentic and substantive.”

Head of school Henry P. A. Smyth acknowledges the sometimes contentious relationship between parents and school leadership at Gilman. He describes his efforts to remain objective in the face of “asks” from parents.

Smyth sent an email, writing, “I try to keep in mind the fact that we are all deeply invested in the education of the students—we as educators and they as parents.” Even though parents and educators may not always agree on what that “best self” entails or how to attain it, we all want our children and students to be their best selves.

Slater and other committee members created what she referred to as “a book of information” to support the change they were requesting. This book included extensive research, beginning with the American School Counselor Association’s recommendation of one counselor for every 250 students. In addition, they gathered and provided comprehensive data to the school administration regarding the mental health resources offered by other schools with demographics comparable to their own, including staff, space, and curriculum.

The school’s leadership eventually agreed to create the new position of director of wellness; The parent committee was also involved in the hiring process.

Slater stated, “We assisted in the formulation of the job description and were involved in the interview process.”

Slater is of the opinion that the effort, which lasted for two and a half years, also resulted in school leadership’s new and improved perception of the parents’ association. Slater stated, “I think it bolstered the fact that the PA is there for support of our community” because we [the faculty and the parents association committee] united behind a common goal and saw it through to completion. The school realized that we could collaborate.

Factors that go into making good partnerships between parents and schools Slater mentioned a few important ones that went into making that working relationship.

One, according to her, was having a “champion” among the school’s members. Two members made up their committee: a school administrator who recognized the need for the position before the committee did, as well as an influential alumnus and board member who was dedicated to mental health and possessed a strong passion for it. Without their support, we couldn’t have done what we did,” Slater stated.

Data were also extremely important to the efforts of the parent-led wellness committee. Do your homework. Slater stated, “You want to come with data.”

Relevant and accurate data were essential to influencing school leaders in both parent-led initiatives. But the data wouldn’t have mattered if the school administrators weren’t willing to listen to parents’ concerns.

According to Slater, “leaders would find that parents have amazing insight as to what the school might be lacking or what is working really well at the school if leaders listened to parents and tried to work together.”

Hertz concurs that a productive partnership can begin when schools are willing to listen to parents’ concerns. She stated, “things that feel like an attack on the teacher or program can really be turned into a process improvement or a revision of a system.” This is something that can happen when they appear to be an attack.

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